The One Percent Rule: Addressing Your Greatest Challenges

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Many of my favorite moments working Delta Sig’s national office were with team members of Phired Up Productions – who we hired to train and advise us with regard to our growth efforts. 

Woody Woodcock, who did a Q&A for Fraternity Man a few years back, advised/coached me for more than five years! One day, while working at The Ohio State University, Woody offered some advice along the lines of:

If you ask someone to improve by 30%, that seems like a lot. But, if you improve just 1% per day, by the end of a month that’ll be a 30% improvement. After a year, that’s 365% improvement!

I’m unsure as to from where Woody pulled this thought, but breaking progress down into something measurable always appealed to me. I know for a fact it appeals to many, as we often sanction fraternity chapters or students with measurable outcomes.

Fraternity men and women are referred to as having pledged themselves to a higher set of standards than the typical college student, though we also often hold high expectations of our employees, our children, and “society”: a collection of individuals we may or may not know.

It’s important then to consider how to instruct others to improve their efforts or to change, especially when our advice pertains to complex issues such as hazing, substance abuse, member apathy or relational violence/misconduct.

As a recruiter and director of growth efforts for the Fraternity, this bit of advice was crucial to keeping me sane. We had lofty targets, and those targets only increased as our team improved in quality, size and training.

Making one or two additional phone calls each night didn’t seem like too much of a challenge, and by the end of a 6-week recruitment campaign, would likely result in a dozen or so extra one-on-one meetings – which were crucial to our success in establishing new chapters.

That same level of patience can and should be expected of our efforts to combat hazing, which continues to make national news at an alarming rate this and last year.

Zero tolerance policies and crafting strongly-worded policies and press releases do a great job of expressing our opinions of hazing: we don’t like it, but throwing such lofty goals at 18, 19, 20, 21-year old students, many of which carelessly wandered into whichever cultures contribute to dangerous hazing incidents, may not be an effective method of communicating our objectives.

We won’t address this and other issues with a simple change of policy or cut-throat enforcement and oversight. We won’t address this and other issues with a 60-90 minute lecture prior to recruitment – even if that lecture cost our fraternity/sorority councils thousands of dollars.

I recently stumbled upon a 100 Days of Hazing series on Huffington Post which promises to thoroughly vet the topic of hazing, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve ready so far. Here is someone attempting to get beyond talking points – some legitimate journalism – which we should applaud as a community (even if at the end of this 100-part series we decide that the journalist’s opinions oppose our own).

I thought back to an interview Judson Horas, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), gave after the Penn State incident.

I don’t mean to knock Mr. Horas; he did well and if he turned down the invitation he or the NIC would likely be demagogued by the news team, but how on Earth do viewers support news media programs attempting to dissect an issue as grand as hazing in a five minute conversation?

This applies to more than hazing, almost every topic of national interest is reduced to unproductive debates. Presidential candidates are supposedly “vetted” via three 60-90 minute debates packed with advertisements and Facebook questions. That is absurd!

What did they expect to accomplish in that timeframe? Was it an attempt to educate their viewers, or simply the shortest possible interrogation to give their anchors an opportunity to look like tough-talking truth-seekers?

Get beyond the noise. Take Woody’s advice to me.

As fraternity/sorority leaders, improve just 1% with each action. Improve the way you communicate with students and volunteers. Improve the way you write and improve the quality of the content you produce.

If you’re a student or alumni advisor and your chapter is suffering, look for ways to reduce the risk of harm.

At the end of the day, your national office’s and college’s/university’s greatest concern isn’t a well-intentioned scavenger hunt – there are more dangerous things happening. So look at the trajectory of your chapter. If it is something you dislike, seek to reverse it by 1% with each action you take. These types of things don’t change overnight.

As Mad-Eye Moody of the Harry Potter series would often repeat: “Constant vigilance.” We are not asking you to eliminate hazing or substance abuse in a day, even if that’s the message we may feel pressure to present publicly.